Category Archives: Innovation

“We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them”

– Steve Jobs, on Mac OS X’s Aqua user interface (Fortune, Jan. 24, 2000)

Between the times when I’m doing something useful with my home PC, I like to tweak settings, replace or add hardware and generally try to optimise things in an endless quest to make it start faster, run better or do tasks more quickly or easily. This inevitably leads to a point where the PC doesn’t work at all. The fun then is restoring it to working condition in an endless cycle of OCD madness.

Apple has gone a long way towards protecting me from my self-imposed tenth circle of suffering with their iPad tablet devices that prevent such levels of customisation. Their elegant design and inherent usability may take away some of the fun but they have also signalled a new world order in computing.

According to research company NPD DisplaySearch, more tablet computers will be sold than notebook computers in 2016. Microsoft is making an even bolder claim by predicting that tablets will outsell standard PCs during 2013.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1Designing for a tablet presents some interesting challenges, not least in the design of the user interface which needs to embrace the standards and paradigms of tablet computing. The most obvious of these is the replacement of mouse navigation with the less precise navigation of touch. The ability to manipulate objects directly by touch provides a more engaging user experience and if virtual objects are metaphors for real objects and actions then tasks become more intuitive.

A Great User Interface

A touch interface also means the need for larger controls and moving away from traditional menu based user options to consider for example, having translucent bars and fading controls that appear and disappear as the user interacts with the application. With limited space for larger controls we also need to think more carefully about what is needed on each screen and whether it is critical to what the user needs at the time. If not, then perhaps it’s critical in a different context, or maybe not at all.

A great user interface is not however centred on the capabilities of the device but on the way that users think and work. It makes the difference between an application that inspires users and one that is tortuous and demotivating to use.

The widespread use of tablets may provide the impetus for us to re-think user interface design in general and perhaps inspire us to move to the next level in human-machine interaction.

Don’t Compare

Think differently

As Steve Jobs said “think differently”

For Product Managers, the process of developing their product backlog will, at some point, lead to drawing up a feature comparison matrix or gap analysis to compare their product area with the competition. This is often driven by the sales teams for whom it provides a useful checklist to show to new prospects in a battle of who has the most features.

So what if we don’t compare?

The real art of Product Management is to look beyond our present feature list by observing and understanding what our customers are trying to do right now and by defining what they will need to do in the future. The interaction of creative and talented groups within the framework of thought leadership and technical excellence leads us to a vision of where our product should be going, how it will be used and how it may look. It’s within these areas of thought that we can reach the Holy Grail that is disruptive innovation.

Once the vision starts to become clear, we realise that the gap that we should be interested in is the one between where we are now and where the vision takes us. Taking the strategic route puts us ahead of the competition by redefining the market and driving market needs. The conversations with customers then become more about how the product not only solves their present problems but also takes them into new market possibilities and provides them with new ways of working.

So rather than taking the ‘me too’ approach we can aim for greatness in our own right.